Monthly Archives: July 2012

Thank You, Mr. Zelinsky


Recently the SCBWI offered Missouri and Kansas illustrators the opportunity to receive a critique by award winning illustrator Paul Zelinsky.  A chance to have your work seen by an experienced and successful professional in the business does not arise often.  This was a break that was hard to pass up, and I didn’t.   I submitted a color spread from a book in progress and the black and white roughs of the spreads appearing before and after.

Within a few weeks, Mr. Zelinsky sent me a thoughtful and comprehensive critique of my work.  While I had not communicated with him, he touched on the very areas I found lacking.  He validated that voice in the back of my head that had been telling me that something wasn’t right.  He not only pointed out the weaknesses but gave suggestions for improvement.  “Why didn’t I think of that?” was what I found myself saying.

Mr. Zelinsky’s feedback helped me become “unstuck.”  I had taken my image as far as I knew how until he empowered me to progress. He shared his knowledge of digital media, texture in color, layout, and even rhyming, pointing out specific areas of application in my image.

The critique Mr. Zelinsky provided was very encouraging, validated my instincts and gave me the tools to grow.  I am very grateful to him and the SCBWI for this learning experience.  I would not hesitate to recommend this program to other illustrators looking to improve their skills.


Zelinsky Critique


Hello!  I’m finally getting around to posting the Paul O. Zelinsky critique.  As many have already said, Mr. Zelinsky was more than helpful in his insights and suggestions.  I found pretty much everything he mentioned about my artwork to be true-both the things I had already suspected, and the things that were new to me.  The biggest things for me were the reminder to NOT rush through something, and to consider the entire piece.  So often I’m worried about the amount of time I have to finish a project, and hence don’t have a good, detailed sketch to work off of nor do I allow myself the time to get everything right.  In a sense, although I am spending hours late at night working, I guess I’m being a little lazy–cutting corners, not trying to really work through something that I know is wrong, but shrug my shoulders and think…good enough.  And that absolutely is not good enough.  If I’m going to be spending valuable time on something, I need to give it my all and really think through things.  Like my figures’ postures, and perspective, and where the lights and darks would really go.

I’ve included the entire critique.  The illustration I submitted was a Christmas card I made for my family this past Christmas.  It’s not part of a story or larger piece, simply a stand alone card.  Thanks again to Mr. Zelinsky and Katie Wools, as well as this wonderful organization.



Name of Illustrator ___Eileen Ewen___________________________________

Name of Reviewer ____Paul Zelinsky__________________________________

Hi, Eileen,

Thank you for letting me know what you were hoping to hear about from me! I’m glad to give you  my opinion about these things.

First, your image is very nicely done. Nothing wrong as far as I can see with all blue and yellow in my opinion. Those are the colors of Sweden.

I am totally convinced by the upper part of it: the window, Santa, the children’s upper halves. Their heads and hair are beautifully handled. Hilary Knight didn’t invent that kind of springy linework and doesn’t have exclusive rights to it; I actually like the way your drawing doesn’t overdo that quality.

About Santa and the little boy not looking at him: I played around with your image in Photoshop, to see what it would look like if the children were flopped so that the boy was on the left looking at Santa, and then if the children stayed in the same place and Santa was flopped, so he was heading off to the upper left, and in both cases something about the overall composition felt less comfortable.  In both cases a sense of movement from lower left to upper right was diminished by the change, and the result felt less stable to me. So I like that Santa is where he is, anyway.

That’s compositional. In illustration terms, I do indeed wonder why the boy is not looking at Santa. None of the kids are really looking at him, but especially that boy. Considering that this isn’t the illustration to a text, it doesn’t mean much to me to say that this is good or bad; if the boy were looking at something other than Santa (a moth on the window?) it would give us more to look at. His gaze away from Santa isn’t particularly compelling and doesn’t add mystery or story to the scene (I guess Santa could be moving fast, and so be unnoticed by the three children but there aren’t enough clues to make it seem that this is an intended interpretation), and it could look like you just didn’t know how to make him look in a more complicated direction than this. To have his body facing left, as he is now, and his face looking up to the right, would probably require your looking at a real child to see how the neck would twist.

You’ve done a good job in the figures and their clothing—it’s an effective stylization, except that the hem of the girl’s robe lifting up in the back like that makes it appear that her legs are sticking out toward us like the boy’s legs on the chair. If she were just standing on tiptoe, wouldn’t we be looking down at that hem as it goes around her legs, and we would not see any of the far side of it?

It’s actually the whole bottom edge of the picture, I think, that is not quite as realized as what’s farther up. On the top, your composition is very strong. Toward the bottom, though, I think your handling of perspective has gotten you into a little trouble.

I recognize that you’re not trying to make a realistic picture that adheres to all rules of perspective. But I don’t think the inconsistencies you’ve put into the floor area work in your favor.

Sometimes you can get away with showing an object from straight on, like your fire truck, the books on top of it, and the cat on the left, even though it is supposedly sitting on a floor that we’re looking down on. But you have so much floor to look at, and under and near the chair there is nothing going on on that floor except the big blue shadow of the chair, which doesn’t look that much like a shadow anyway. It is surrounded by so much small stuff that all comes to an end where the shadow begins—chair leg, boy’s feet, cat’s foot, chair other leg, truck headlight, chair other leg—that I don’t get a sense of shapes in coherent relationship.

Making a nice composition out of what is under and around the chair is a bit of a challenge, but I think this is the weakest part of your drawing right now.

Perhaps you should lower the line between the floor and the wall, so that there’s less floor overall, and also so that our line of sight will be set at a lower level, and the feeling of looking up at Santa and the moon could be enhanced. Then start thinking of the way things align or overlap. Overlapping is the way to make space, and aligning pulls things onto the same level. So the big brother’s toes aligning with the edge of the floor, and the cat’s paw doing the same thing, are probably not good. The big toe of that brother lining up with the chair leg is also not great. That negative shape of the underside of the chair is a big rectangle, not what you want. By contrast, I’d say that the way the boy’s arm and the cat’s tail slice up the visible bits of the chair are very nice, a good example of using darks and lights and overlap.

The large areas of contrasting values that you have over the top part of the image seem to make that whole area of little things on the floor feel weaker.  Could the chair be more substantial, and include a cross-bar that could go behind the boy’s feet? In all honesty, a little more variation in the children’s poses might add more interest and humanity—i.e., suppose that central boy  had one leg different from the other, maybe coming partway down in front of the chair? Or maybe to the side of the chair? I’m not sure if there exists a reasonable and possible pose like that but the poses maybe could do more than they do here to keep us from being aware that we’re not seeing any faces. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes a pose can say so much that you don’t know you’re not seeing a face. The girl gripping her brother’s pajamas says a lot, but the fact that all of the children are using their legs symmetrically does slightly inhibit the degree of expression.

I don’t know how much you’re concerned about treating light in a realistic way. A (more) realistic treatment would mean a huge stream of yellow light coming in the window and lighting the edges of the children (and the window mullions) down to their waists, and then I think that pale blue light coming from above which is illuminating the interior of the room, and casting the shadows we see under the windowsill and the chairs. (Moonlight wouldn’t do any of those things; it’s coming in toward us). With this pale interior light, an expectation would be that the blue of the wall would get darker as you go down toward the floor.  The floor then would be lighter (ignoring the local color of the floor) because the light is hitting it straight on and not glancingly as on the wall. What you have here is the wall actually getting lighter the lower you go. While a convincing feeling is all you need in a picture, and not an accurate account of lighting, there can be a relation between the two. Looking at this image, I do think that more darkness across the bottom would give that area more weight, and a greater opportunity to put together simple and slightly larger shapes in a way that minimizes the slightly fussy feeling I think is there now. In other words, I think it would help to put a gradation on your wall to make the bottom of it significantly darker than it is now.

So that is pretty much everything I would say about your card image. I hope it’s useful, at least in a general way when you make other pictures. The principles I am talking about relate to everything in picture-making, I think.

Excerpts from Paul O. Zelinsky’s Illustration Critique


For the Zelinsky critique, I chose to submit a sample illustration from a picture book work in progress. As the piece is part of a narrative, I was also able to include some rough images from the dummy.

Like Dayne, I was impressed by the detail of Mr. Zelinsky’s notes. His feedback was thoughtful, thorough, and kind. He commented on what I did well but focused more on the areas where I should improve. Most important, he provided very specific recommendations on how to create a better book. Below you can find some excerpts from his notes. (Note: The headings are my additions.)

1. Make sure your characters have expressive faces and personality.

“What I think it is missing is a sense of who the individuals are who perform the action; the absence of faces is a problem for me. In a whole book, it’s really a problem only if it is a recurrent absence. A page here and there without seeing the eyes in a face can even make for a good change of pace, but some artists do nothing but that. The effect for adults can be very positive—a greater sense of mystery, something not spelled out, it can feel richer at times when we’re given less to work with. But not for kids. Some children may respond to abstract art, but I don’t think there’s a good reason to leave off an entire level of communication, that identification with a character in a picture, when you recognize and put yourself into a face, a body, etc.

“From your dummy it looks to me like you’re not really avoiding faces in the way I’m describing, but you may be trending in that direction, and my advice would be to steer away from it. To the maximum degree possible, you want your characters to have personalities, and not to show blankness in eyes and face. This is harder in collage than in painting, but it certainly can be done.”

2. Balance your micro and macro scenes.

“I would point out that after the first page, all of the scenes you’ve sketched are kind of zoomed in on the subjects and show the scene only partially. Viewers will want to see more at least some of the time.”

3. Incorporate your text into the composition.

“It’s good design to keep the text in some fairly unchanging location in relation to the edges of the page; I see you’re putting it the same distance from the top or bottom each time. But it’s also good design to incorporate the line of text, as a shape, into the composition of the page, and I don’t think you’re doing that so much. Text looks sort of marginalized, considering that you’re working with such large shapes that have plenty of room to hold it. [ . . . ] No matter where you put the text, you should make sure that it doesn’t sit on top of any imagery that has value contrast in it.”

As you can see, his critique gave me a lot to consider.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Mr. Zelinsky, Katie Wools, and Missouri SCBWI for the opportunity!

SCBWI Bulletin Art Submissions


Well, I haven’t posted in awhile, so I thought I’d check in with two images I recently sent in to the SCBWI Bulletin. I don’t know if they’ll be picked, but they have published me twice before, so it’s not unrealistic to think they might do it again.

When you ask for a critique be brave and listen carefully, you might learn something.


I am a new member of SCBWI. I recently asked to have a Virtual Illustration Critique by  Paul O. Zelinsky  of my newest children’s book illustration for “Madeline Delilah, Extraordinarily, Ordinary” written by Mariah Richardson. I think I’m pretty tough, and criticism doesn’t bother me. I’m a professional after all.

The critique I received from Mr. Zelinsky was very well written and very detailed. I could tell there was a lot of thought put into it.  There was a lot of encouragement and positive feed back, which made me happy of course, but there was also some very well placed criticism and strong suggestions.

I think the reason I felt sensitive about the criticism is because some of the specific areas of criticism were about the very areas that I was a little uncomfortable with all along. In other words I knew in my mind there were problems that I hadn’t quite worked out,  but I went ahead anyway.  He felt some of my images were static, that I should push the images, perspectives and emotions further to make everything more exciting, dramatic and interesting. Yes, I agree, now I see it all, can I start all over, can I have a redo?

I have learned something very important. Always go that extra mile (heck, that extra ten miles) to make your illustrations perfect in all ways. You will hopefully have a very big audience someday and you will want to be proud.

See my brand new wordpress blog:

Also see my Web site Portfolio:

Back in action… finally.


I want to apologize for being scarce the past few months. I could blame a number of things… work, my surgery, my toddler, my husband changing jobs, etc.  Truthfully most of it was because I was a bit burnt out and decided to have a pity party for awhile. Chasing this illustration dream can be rough on the ego sometimes and I just need a little break from things.

I HAVE been working on a few things in the sidelines. Particularly an app development project that will be taking up a chunk of my time over the next few months. I’ll be sure to fill you in once I get a bit further in the project, or you can read all about the process on my blog (

That all said, I finally sat myself down at my desk last week and started my second digital illustration. I forgot just how much I love my Wacom and it definitely reenergized me a bit. Look for quite a bit more work coming out of my hand over the next couple of months.

So here is that illustration… for the word “Suspend” given to us by  It was a lot of fun and I’m excited to be back. Feel free to check out the last few posts on my blog to see the progress images on this one. Hope you enjoy it and I’ll look forward to seeing all of you at the next meeting in August! (I REALLY can’t believe it’s already mid-July. Wow.)


As always, comments and constructive criticism are always welcome!





I am a fine art painter (and yoga teacher) from Lawrence, KS. I am shifting my focus to include illustration of children’s books. Below is a recent 18×24 watercolor on paper. My style may change as I try to illustrate actions and emotions. This is all new to me 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to look and thanks for having this blog!

Kimbo Jackson